Thursday, July 12, 2012

One-half turned away in “summer squeeze”: LAUSD OFFERS LIMITED SUMMER SCHOOL CLASSES

By Barbara Jones, Staff Writer | LA Daily News |

Lamarr Brown Stevens distributes math and history books on the first day of summer school at Canoga Park High School on July 9, 2012. (David Crane/Staff Photographer)

7/09/2012 05:41:20 PM PDT/ Updated:   07/09/2012 06:19:33 PM PDTA line of students snaked out the door of the Canoga Park High School attendance office Monday morning, with scores of teens hoping to get a seat in Los Angeles Unified's smallest-ever summer school program. | See photo gallery.

It was the start of the four-week session, but any first-day cheer was tempered by the grim reality of 10,000 students scrambling for just 5,000 slots in the district's drastically scaled-back summer program.

"We're trying to squeeze in as many as we can," Assistant Superintendent Alvaro Cortes said. "Almost every class has from the high 30s to the low 40s as far as the number of students enrolled."

Canoga Park students Samara Vasquez, left, and Veronica Hernandez opted to take summer school because they say it has fewer distractions than the regular school year. (David Crane/Staff Photographer)

With a bare-bones budget of $1 million, the district's Beyond the Bell branch is offering summer school at only 16 of its high schools. Classes are limited to core subjects and enrollment to failing students - seniors get priority - who need to make up credits to graduate.

Friends Veronica Hernandez and Samara Vasquez, both 16, weren't thrilled at the prospect of spending the summer studying rather than relaxing, but figured there would be fewer distractions than during a traditional school year.

"I'm really hoping it's going to be simpler," Hernandez said of her math class.

Brianna Rojas, 15, found herself at the end of a long line as she arrived at Canoga Park High about 8 a.m., hoping to enroll in a history or English class.

"I need these classes for credit recovery," she said. "I don't know what I'll do if I don't get in."

But half of the 10 classes on the Canoga Park roster - core subjects like health, English, math and U.S. and world history - were already full by the time Rojas arrived.

"In past years, we'd ask students what they needed and would create the classes," said Judy Vanderbok, the principal for Canoga Park High's summer school program.

"This year, we were told what we'd be offering.

Breanna Abram was hoping to get English 10b as a summer school class at Canoga Park High School, but it was not offered. The school is one of a small number of schools offering summer school classes. (David Crane/Staff Photographer)

"I'm taking all the kids, then I'm going to call Beyond the Bell and ask to start new classes. But I don't know what's going to happen."

There are alternatives for students who got aced out of a seat in Los Angeles Unified but still want to make up a class or two.

Options for Youth operates a system of charter schools around Southern California and is still enrolling students in its guided independent study program.

"Most students are there to retake classes they failed or catch up on classes they need to stay on track to graduate," Deputy Superintendent Bill Toomey said.

Options for Youth has about 18,000 students enrolled in summer school, up from about 13,000 last year and 10,000 in 2010.

"We've seen a steady increase since the districts' budgets got hit," he said. "Some of the students are from surrounding districts, but the bulk are from LAUSD."

The district's current program is a far cry from just a few years ago, when Beyond the Bell had a $42 million budget for summer school. There were credit-recovery classes then, too, but students could also take courses to get ahead academically or simply to enrich their education.

But as the state's budget crisis shrunk education funding, Cortes found himself facing an increasingly bleak bottom line. Not only were course offerings limited this year, but he had to cancel online classes because the district couldn't provide the technical support. Those courses were converted to traditional classes instead.

Next year, he said, will be even worse.

"We've been told not to expect any money next year," he said. "So this could be the last year of summer school. But we're going to battle this thing."

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